The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Tom Lavis

January 29, 2012

Tom Lavis | Celebration is close to the vest

It’s amazing how a single television episode can change society.

My three 30-something children get a kick out of celebrating Festivus.

Festivus became part of worldwide pop culture after an episode of “Seinfeld” in 1997.

The holiday celebration includes an unadorned aluminum “Festivus pole,” practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength” and the labeling of explainable events as “Festivus miracles.”

What makes the phony Dec. 23 celebration so appealing is its commemoration of the holiday season without participating in the pressures and commercialism.

I have watched my sons issue challenges to their friends in feats of strength.

But this holiday is something I haven’t been comfortable joining because I enjoy tinsel, which is forbidden on a Festivus pole.

It wasn’t until this week that I discovered a celebration that I feel comfortable with taking part.

It’s the International Sweater Vestival.

No kidding. It is celebrated the second Friday after Thanksgiving and participants are encouraged to wear their favorite sweater vest proudly.

I recently joined the sweater vest union when my wife bought me three vests for Christmas.

It has taken me nearly 45 years to muster enough courage to wear a sweater without sleeves.

It’s because of an incident in junior high school that has left me guilt-ridden for decades.

I was considered to be the class clown.

Sure, I pulled the typical pranks of making funny sounds such as barking during a lecture about Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.”

I also was big on accents. My classmates chuckled when I used my native Czechoslovakian dialect when answering a chemistry question.

They thought it was funny, but I used it as a mechanism to get a loud laugh because I had no clue what the answer may have been.

But it was my sarcastic comments that dug my sweater-vest hole.

It centered on Mr. Fred, a geography teacher who wore horn-rimmed glasses and was a devotee of sweater vests.

With my maturity level about as high as my chemistry grade, I made a remark during study hall about Mr. Fred’s nerdy choice of fashion.

I may have asked the question of what is the difference between a bulletproof vest and a sweater vest?

When you’re in eighth grade, saying that a bulletproof vest protects you from getting shot and a sweater vest protects you from meeting pretty girls, sounded funny at the time.

It wasn’t long that students began to mock Mr. Fred, which landed me in hot water.

It didn’t help that several days later he showed up in a goose-down vest and looked like a passenger on the Titanic.  

By celebrating Vestival, I’m now in solidarity with Mr. Fred and my fellow vest wearers.

You will find that people wearing vests smile at each other in recognition. So for those who feel alone, wearing a sweater vest is a good reason to interact.

There seems to be no better time to come together and wear vests in a show of unity now that I have a few of my own.

Vest naysayers may ridicule as I did until they discover the freedom associated with a sleeveless garment.

I’m so sorry, Mr. Fred. You indeed were a visionary.

Just as Presidents Day has become famous for sales of automobiles and mattresses, Sweater Vestival will become synonymous with sleeveless outerwear.

I have overcome my prejudice and have found myself looking for winter closeout sales on sweater vests. They can be wool, cashmere, acrylic, rayon or cotton.

But organizers of the Sweater Vestival shy away from Gore-Tex and other space-age materials that wick away moisture and come with lots of little pockets, pull-strings and other features.

The rules state that these types of tops don’t count as sweater vests.

Don’t ask me why? I think it’s a chemistry thing.


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